I have met some pretty interesting people on Twitter, but Mike Wells, who teaches creative writing at Oxford, really tops them all. Read the story on his website about how his first novel Wild Child went from a trash heap (literally) to #1 on Kindle. It is a fascinating and true tale of what one person can accomplish if they dream big enough. Here’s another thing about Mike: he gives away free books. All the time. Which is how I ended up reading one of his many titles, Wrong Side of the Tracks.
Wrong Side of the Tracks is set in the teenage hell known as high school. It took me a while to figure out this was a novel meant for younger readers because Wells’s skillful and compelling writing immediately hooked me into the classic love triangle of Stephen and Kristine, who are 14 years old, and Kristine’s older football hero boyfriend, Ray. But adroit storyteller Wells gives readers more than the wonder and torment of first love, even as that plot unfolds with skill and compassion.
After his parents’ divorce, Stephen and his mom move to the other side of the tracks, away from Kristine and Ray and their perfect world of fancy cars and huge homes. Stephen could have been an instant target for bullies if not for Ben, a complex teen with a bad reputation, who stands up for Stephen and becomes both bodyguard and friend.
When Stephen decides to give Kristine a birthday present, Ray hits the high school roof and almost takes Stephen down. Then Ben steps in and makes quick work of the spoiled jock. Particularly his nose. Before the beatdown, Ray throws Stephen’s gift to Kristine back in his face. And something about that returned gift strongly hints that all is not well between Kristine and Ray.
Although Stephen’s attraction to Kristine is sweet, the really interesting character here is Ben. There are rumors about his dysfunctional family, some of which Stephen witnesses first-hand. Ben leads a pack of dare devil misfits and he can be brutal, but he also has a soft, artsy side he rarely lets others see. As a reader, you never know what Ben will do next. He’s the wild card of the novella, so that even as we long to see what becomes of Stephen and Kristine’s relationship, we turn the expertly executed pages with trepidation about what Ben will be up to next.